Leica M11, proof of the new lady of photography

Leica, a German manufacturer of advanced cameras, has been selling its famous M-Series for almost seventy years: they are the rangefinder cameras that they have made the story of reportage, of street photography and has in turn become an icon of style and design. During the twentieth century, photography was the most important tool for narrating large and small events, and Leica played a fundamental role.

This M11 has many advantages and also many strange aspects compared to a reflex or a traditional digital compact (or one of the ubiquitous phones with ever more quality images). Her peculiarities love or hate each other, especially if you do not know Wetzlar’s philosophy. However, the important price makes us understand the positioning: M11 costs 8490 euros (body only), we tested it with a Summicron-M 28mm f / 2 aspherical lens from 4400 euros, for a in all, touching 13 thousand. The M11 was marketed during the pandemic and the shutdowns, but by history and vocation it is a unit that wants the way: it does its best in reportage or at least outside, in the open air, not in the studio. We followed his inclination for 3 weeks on the road. And here we see how it went.

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The technical properties

Since the early 2000s, Leica has reinvented itself and embarked on a process of digitizing products, adding new ones, and making classics more modern. The M-Series has arrived at version 11with a construction that Leica defines as “German craftsmanship without compromise.” The machine has a few thousand very small mechanical components, quality materials, light metal shell and body, slim profile, new bottom (with integrated battery), new weather seal, USB -C and WiFi and Bluetooth connections. The shape and weight are practically the same as the great-grandmother’s from 1954, the legendary M3: 139 times 38.5 times 80 mm, weighing just over half a kilogram, including battery.

The sensor on the M11 is a proprietary CMOS BSI, designed in Europe specifically for Leica and optimized for its lenses, with 3 different resolutions (18, 36 and 60 megapixels) and uses a special technique for pixel binding to change resolution without compression or loss of data. The Maestro III processor, also proprietary and manufactured in Europe, is the other half of the electronic part of the machine.

There are dozens of innovations in each of these components, but the underlying philosophy is simple and points towards it in our opinion the real opponent of digital cameras, ie smartphones. While mobile phones have a very modest quality optics and use CPU power to make photography computational, Leica uses the highest quality of sensor and lenses to achieve images with an extremely high natural resolution and handles the optimizations afterwards with a dedicated processor. .

And a bit’ the difference between a Marvel movie and the new one Top Gun Maverick by Tom Cruise: the first is shot in a gym with green sheets on the wall and all the special effects; the other uses real airplanes that actually fly with the actors on board, and the scenes are not simulated or computer-reconstructed.

Street photography

Shooting with the Leica M11 is a pleasure, but it requires a minimum of knowledge. The machine has all the main functions that can be operated manually with special rotary knobs and commands with printed indexes: focus, aperture, shutter speed and ISO adjustment. you can to automatically set everything except focus and aperture, as Leica lenses are manual only and without electronics. The advantage is that you can use all lenses from the 1930s onwards (and many others compatible thanks to adapters). But the most interesting part is the focus: the M-series uses a distance meter, ie focus on sight, using a collimation system, which after the first attempts becomes a different nature.

Alternatively, as the old race cars allowed for double in quick shift, the Leica M11 allows you to focus in hyperfocal mode by selecting a shallow depth of field and some opening and snapping without lifting the camera. In addition, the ergonomics of the lens and camera, which are unchanged and constant in all lenses, allow you to adjust the focus by heart, without having to look. For those who want a different approach, Leica allows you to use the rear fender or buy an optical add-on that acts as a viewfinder electronically, effectively transforming the M11 into a mirrorless one.

The most important thing, however, is the picture: we shot on the streets of Milan, Lerici and Barcelona and took pictures during a couple of public meetings. Thanks to the sumptuous shutter, the shot is practically inaudible (the mechanical lens reaches 1/4000 of a second, the electronic to 1/16000). Not surprisingly, the M-Series has always been the perfect camera for stage photographers in the theater or for any event. Today, however, the device is more noticeable than before. Also the black model, which is more discreet than the silver colored one. M11 attracts attention and we were stopped by a white-haired enthusiast who came to ask if we were really using “an old Leica”. The surprise for them was to discover that it is brand new and perhaps one of the most advanced machines on the market.

Take pictures at will

The recording produces files with 14-bit color depth and variable resolution thanks to pixel binning, a technology borrowed from mobile devices that collects the sensor’s receptors. This choice has a number of advantages: we have it recorded in DMG format (in RAW) at low resolution (18 MP), which allows you to capture much more light on the sensor surface by reducing digital noise. This makes the camera even faster and the buffer of images virtually infinite. In practice, it’s like shooting very good Jpegs that can be processed in posts much more. In addition, this shooting mode allowed us to use two old Leica lenses from the 1960s, which have a lower optical resolution and which have performed well here. Basic ISO of 64 is a very low value and with very little noise. There dynamic range reaches up to 50 thousand ISOwith the highest level of sensor gain, and are certainly usable.

Instead of bringing the resolution to the highest level (60 MP), the machine not only produces important images, but also allows, using a fixed 28mm lens, to crop directly into the camera and get a field of view corresponding to a 35 mm lens or 50, with very little loss of solution. Since we have always used M11 on the road or for events and very little in contexts where you need more solution, that is, in the studio or to shoot landscapes, the choice for us was to use 18 MP. Which, among other things, are perfect for connecting with the smartphone.

The high-tech side

In this regard, the quality of the smartphone app must be emphasized. Leica has done a lot of work to improve the Photos app: The iPhone version we used deserves a mention except because it, along with the internal memory of the 64GB camera, allowed us to work all day without using the SD card, except initially as a backup of the images in the camera. It is a truly remarkable convenience that has virtually eliminated the benefit of mobile phones when taking pictures on the go, that is, wanting to take and immediately share on social networks. With M11 and Leica Photos it’s very easy: you shoot, turn on the mobile phone and load the image with the app, which allows you to add it to the scroll and share it instantly on your favorite social network or send it to friends. From a professional point of view, it allowed us to immediately send the pictures by skipping a step (cable transfer) and using the phone instead of a tablet or laptop.

Again: the addition of the USB-C connector, which allows both charging and data transfer (faster if there are many 60 MP images), brings out the M11’s travel character even more. There car bag it can only contain one cable and then you use the phone and tablet charger. Another touch of minimalism made in Germany that reduces clutter in the backpack even more. In our test 1800 mAh battery (which is 64% larger than the previous generation and not compatible) allows you to easily take a day with photos. If you use it with the screen off and using only the optical viewfinder, the battery provides even more.

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Our conclusions

The Leica M Series is a fair purchase. These are premium cameras both in the previous film incarnation (which Leica still sells) and in this digital one. M11 is the culmination of this work: it regains the size and weight of the old M3 and at the same time brings important innovations, such as a very bright and multi-resolution sensor of the latest generation, an ingenious processor, USB-C connections and very fast WiFi.

If you acquire the taste for slow and silent shooting, for a different way of understanding photography than the waves of mirrorless and traditional SLR cameras, the M11 is a master. But it’s like driving a car a gritty vintage convertible with a powerful and modern engine: you need to know it and know what you want to be able to tame it. Using Live View or the extra viewfinder can sweeten the learning curve a bit for those unfamiliar with it. Our feeling was to get back to a thoroughbred horse, nervous and nimble, able Pictures extraordinary with a unique optical signature, softened by greater accessibility to digital (thanks to the Leica Photos app and the ability to have a digital zoom of 1.3 or 1.8x).

What we liked about the Leica M11

  • The new sensor it is a prodigy with very low base ISO and incredible range

  • The app Leica Focus it is very well done and makes the M11 flexible

  • That software the system is minimalist and very easy to set up

  • It’s the ultimate upgrade for those who already love the M Series

What we did not like

  • Anything autofocus (60 MP unforgivable errors)

  • There is no stabilization picture

  • Maybe it goes too far (and will not win new users)

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